Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Anti-sex work revamp is just so wrong


Could this be Peter MacKay?
How timely to have University of Victoria researcher Cecilia Benoit and her team looking into the realities of the Canadian sex industry right now. Cecilia and other key researchers connected to the multi-project research have been gathering really meaningful information about the sex industry for many years, and with this project are investigating all aspects of the industry, from working conditions to management structures and clients.
    Such research will mean little to the Conservative government, which has already proven on a number of occasions that evidence-based research plays little role in its decision-making. But it's at least a branch to cling to for the rest of us in the coming storm around Bill C-36, which will set Canada back to the dark ages around sex work if it becomes law by criminalizing even more aspects of the work despite all evidence that criminalization doesn't work for anyone.
    I know how emotional this issue can be for people. I know how much people absolutely despise even thinking about the sex industry, having lived 10 years now of trying to talk about the realities of the industry and finding only a handful of people who want to hear about any of it. But for Canadians to stand back and let Peter MacKay and the federal government do this terrible thing - well, I just have to hope we can open our minds just a little to think differently about the people who work in this industry, regardless of our preconceptions.
    Bookmark the "Understanding Sex Work" page, which is already a great source of unbiased information on a profoundly misunderstood industry. For reasons I don't understand, we prefer to believe that all sex workers are forced into the business and are waiting to be rescued, and that all it's going to take is for Canada to get tough on "perverts" and pimps. The truth is that 80 per cent of the sex workers in this latest research said they chose to work in the industry.
    They are workers. They need standard work regulations, and access to all the resources the rest of us have to deal with the occasional exploitive, violent bosses or customers. They need support, not rescue. They need empathy, not these endless attempts to render them powerless, demoralized victims in the hands of horrible and violent men.
    The highest court in our land struck down the previous laws around prostitution, most of which we'd had for 150 years. Bill C-36 is no solution. It's a giant step backwards, and a truly heartbreaking development for those who understand sex work.
 
    

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Racism in Honduras: Not Just On The Soccer Field

    
    
    This is a great read from the Washington Post on the roots of racism in Honduras, which I definitely saw during my time there. There were occasions when I asked someone if they were part Garifuna - the Afro-Hondurans who live along the Caribbean coast - only to see such questions were perceived as a grand insult. 
    
    One woman pulled me aside after I asked and confirmed quietly that yes, she was part Garifuna, but quickly added "I don't like the blacks." Another laughed nervously and said no, she was just from an area of the country where they didn't use chlorine in the water and as a result, people's skin was darker. 
    
    You tend to think of poverty as the great leveller in a country like Honduras, whose citizens certainly have much bigger things to worry about than the colour of a neighbour's skin. But no. White people against brown people. Brown people against darker brown people. What a world we live in. 
     Thank you to Joshua Nadel for putting some history around the mystery. Tragic how racism always finds its way through.
     
    In 2011, a number of incidents surrounding soccer and racism grabbed international headlines (most notably the  John Terry-Anton Ferdinand and Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra affairs). Outside of the limelight of most of the international press, Afro-Honduran players voiced their own charges to end racial discrimination. Osman Chávez, then a starting center back for los Catrachos (as the Honduran national team is sometimes called) and many of his teammates decided to boycott the national media as part of a campaign called “journalism without discrimination.” Racist comments on newspaper webpages appeared regularly, which disparaged him and many others on the team. He could understand racism in Poland, where he played professionally, as partly stemming from not seeing many people of color. But “in your own country, brother, where you were born,” he said, “it is intolerable, you just can’t fit that in your mind.” In October of that year, Johnny Palacios, also at the time a national team player, accused a referee in the Honduran professional league of racially abusing him during a game.
Racism is certainly nothing new in Honduras. Honduras identifies itself as a mestizo nation — of mixed indigenous and European roots — and officially only about 2 percent of the population is of African descent (though the actual number may be as high as 10 percent). And the fact that roughly half the Honduran national team at the 2014 World Cup is Afro-Honduran only serves to suggest that other issues are at play, such as access to education and job opportunities. But history is at stake as well, and the team exposes the contortions that the Honduran state historically attempted to “whiten” the nation.
So in the early 1900s, Honduran intellectuals and government officials began searching for ways to highlight Honduras’ indigenous heritage. In the 1920s, they “found” their new national hero: the Lenca warrior Lempira. He had waged a futile war against Spanish conquistadors in the 1530s, but he was rewarded nearly 400 years later. Though no images of Lempira existed, the Honduran government produced one, which still graces the Honduran banknotes that bear his name.In the early 20th century, Honduran nationalist leaders adhered to ideas ofmestizaje — a valorizing of the mixed race nature of Latin American nations popularized by the Mexican thinker José Vasconcelos — as a way to inspire national pride. While mestizaje uplifted the indigenous, it was still based on 19th century racist ideology, which placed Africans at the bottom of the racial hierarchy. People of African descent were seen as an impediment to national development, and their presence had to be minimized. Blacks,according to Honduran thinkers of the era, were “retarded ethnic elements” and represented “a problem for the purity for the ‘Honduran race.’ ”
In embracing Lempira, Honduran nationalists not only created a cultural icon for a nation supposedly built on European and indigenous bases, but also explicitly rewrote the history of the nation’s African roots.  According to the early 20th century thinkers, Honduras’ black population arrived as part of the influx of Anglophone Antillean workers for banana plantations in the late 1890s, and they remained confined to the north coast and the Bay Islands. They coupled the discursive reconfiguration of Honduran history with practical racism: Immigration laws in 1929 and 1934 banned blacks from entering the nation.
In fact, however, Honduras’ African roots are much older. People of African descent arrived in four different waves. Many Africans arrived in Honduras in the 1500s along with the first Spaniards (and may have fought against Lempira) and played a crucial role in the development of the colony and its economy.
While history books sought to de-Africanize Honduras, census data also played a role in minimizing the presence of non-mestizos in the nation. In a linguistic sleight of hand, the Honduran state erased the possibility of claiming African roots. The 1910 census enumerated seven different races:ladino (a catchall term for people of mixed race), indigenous, mestizo, white, blacks, mulattos and “yellow.” But by 1916, there were only two (indigenous and ladino), and by the 1920s racial categories ceased to exist. There were no blacks in Honduras, because there were only Hondurans. Racial identification would eventually be added back into the census, but no categories that allowed for African descent — ladino, mulatto or black — existed until 2001.A second African-descended population emerged — in the 1600s — from intermarriage between shipwrecked and runaway slaves and indigenous populations on the north coast. The Miskitos, as they are known, aligned themselves with the British and intermittently raided Spanish settlements. The third major influx of people of African descent came in 1797, with the arrival of the Black Carib — runaway slaves and members of the Carib indigenous group — who were deported to the Bay Islands after losing a war against England and France. These exiles moved quickly to the mainland and became known as the Garifuna, who remain the largest African-descended ethnic group in Honduras. And the fourth wave — the so-callednegros ingleses — arrived in the late 1800s from the British Caribbean to work on banana plantations.
Yet Afro-Hondurans have always been visible in the nation, and especially on the national soccer team. While the team for Honduras’ first international match — in 1921 — is unknown, in 1930, when Honduras won its first game, at least four members of the team were black. And this at a time when Brazil would not to allow Afro-Brazilians to represent the nation internationally. So too in 1982, when Honduras shocked hosts Spain with a 1-1 draw, Afro-Hondurans made up much of the team, including defenseman Alan Anthony Costly (father of current Honduran striker Carlos Costly) and goalkeeper Julio Cesar Arzú.
Presence on the soccer team, however, does not equal acceptance. For most of the 20th century, the Honduran state has ignored its African-descended population — or worse. In 1937, the government of Tiburcio Carias massacred 22  Garifuna leaders in the village of San Juan. Garifuna language was banned in school curriculums until the 2000s. Social indicators among black Hondurans tend to rank near the bottom; access to education and jobs lags behind much of the rest of the country. And in soccer, racism persists as well. In 2006, a politician claimed that blacks brought the level of play on the team down because they were not as “intelligent” as other Hondurans. In response to Chávez’s 2011 anti-racism campaign, a former Honduran national team psychologist argued that“blacks, by nature, have low self-esteem and therefore look for ways to call attention to themselves.”
In other words, while Afro-Hondurans make up a large portion of the national team — and always have — their presence has not yet led to greater tolerance. Nor has it occasioned a change in Honduras’ dominant narrative about race. What does this mean? The persistence of racist attitudes in Honduras implies that soccer, which many claim capable of changing attitudes about race and creating a more just world, may not be the panacea that many would like it to be.
 Joshua Nadel is author of “Fútbol!: Why Soccer Matters in Latin America.” He is an assistant professor of History and associate director of the Global Studies Program at North Carolina Central University.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Letter from Canadian sex worker clarifies dangers of Bill C-36

   As a Canadian practically ready to flee the country just because I hate the current federal government so much, I'm feeling empathy with all those poor Americans who endured all those humiliating years under the presidency of George W. Bush.
    OK, the Conservatives aren't quite up there with Bush in terms of outrageous, poorly informed decisions. But this new anti-prostitution bill they've put forward certainly puts them much closer to the zone. Why would a government of a country known all around the world for its humane laws table a bill that will not only fail to protect sex workers, but in fact will make things quite a lot worse for them across the board?
    Read the letter below from a Canadian sex worker, who sent it to the Liberal Party and whose MP Sean Casey read it out loud in the legislature yesterday. This is what Bill C-36 really means to sex workers.
    Further criminalization is a disastrous, shameful decision. There's research from all over the world that has already established that. Canada, you are breaking my heart.  (Sean Casey's full presentation is here.)

"Bill C-36 horrifies me—it will have a catastrophic effect on my safety and livelihood.
   
 I have been an indoor sex worker for 5 years. I screen clients to ensure my safety. This involves asking for a reference from another sex worker, and then contacting that worker to ensure the potential client was respectful. If it's the client's first time seeing a sex worker, I require their full legal name, employment information, and cell phone number. I have a conversation via phone or email to discuss what services they are seeking, and what I am comfortable providing.... I check the client's information against a bad date list—a compilation of bad clients which is shared among sex workers. I always meet new clients in a public place prior to the session, for example: a coffee shop or the lobby of their hotel.
   
Because I am able to screen my clients, I have NEVER experienced violence during my 5 years in sex work. If you criminalize my clients, they will be unwilling to provide the screening information I require to ensure my safety. I will not have any client information to add to a bad date list should something go wrong. If they've seen a sex worker in the past, they will not want to provide that reference because it will mean they are admitting to committing a crime. I will be forced to accept clients that block their phone number, hide their identity, and have no references. This is a gift to sexual predators posing as clients.
   
    Like 90% of sex workers in Canada, I work from an indoor space, known as an “incall”. If I am assaulted in my workspace, due to my inability to screen my clients, I will be unable to contact the police, as this would reveal the address of my incall location. This means police can easily arrest my good clients as they come to see me at my safe indoor location. I also risk being evicted by my landlord.
   
    Bill C-36 will have an even worse impact on street based sex workers, who also rely on screening their clients to ensure safety. Street based workers need time to refer to bad date lists, to negotiate safer sex practices (such as condom use), and to assess the client. Bad date lists may include the time and date of an incident, a description of the vehicle, a licence plate number, a description of the person, etc. If clients are criminalized and fearful of arrest, they will try to speed up the process limiting the time a sex worker has to vet their client, and refer to a bad date list. Sex workers will be forced to jump into a vehicle with a client without taking these vital safety measures. They will be forced to work in isolated areas away from police, so their fearful clients will continue to see them. Bill C-36 is a gift to predators posing as clients.
   
     This bill will not stop sex workers from working, it will just impede their ability to work safely.

    Bill C-36 will kill sex workers if it is passed."

Thursday, June 12, 2014

No wonder moms can't get anything done

   
I've been back in a life with young children again for the last six weeks, helping out with three of our grandsons for a couple of months while their parents get up to various things. There’s much that is quite lovely about it, but being able or willing to do my usual amount of writing is not one of them.
    This new life has helped me see that in fact, I had become quite used to having time alone for writing and reflecting. But when you’re living in a house with children, forget it.
    At this moment, my 14-year-old grandson is madly playing some iPod game a mere metre away from me. The 11-year-old is steps away on the other side, charging his own iPod. Not more than 10 minutes ago, I had to stop everything to half-drag, half-carry the 5-year-old to the bathroom and then bed after he fell asleep on the couch watching “Free Birds.”
    There are magical grandma moments in there, for sure. But for the purpose of getting writing done, this life is totally unworkable. I am deeply sympathetic all over again with all the harried young parents out there puzzling over how it is that even one child can throw everything else about your life into a disorganized spin. It's all coming back to me now.
    Mostly what it means for me is dry times for my blog. I still think about things I want to write about, but knowing that I will struggle to clear three hours straight to put my thoughts together just kind of takes the fun out of it. I'm also not playing my accordion anywhere near as faithfully as is my habit, and even getting in the morning yoga is a struggle unless I can get up and at 'em by 6 a.m. before everyone else wakes up.
    But more creative days will come. Soon enough, the afternoon when we went looking for tadpoles will turn into a warm family anecdote about time spent together, rather than a memory of what was actually a fairly chaotic little walk to a muddy ditch that ended with the youngest grandson falling into a creek and getting soaked.
    Someday I’ll recall delightedly the time three of us walked through the Lazo bird sanctuary listening to the song sparrows, a walk I used to love as a young woman in the Comox Valley. I think by then I will have forgotten that in truth I could barely hear a bird cheep for all the noise my young companions were making, and that I had to constantly admonish them not to whack the heads off the tall ferns.
    Filling the well, Paul calls it. It's about experiencing something that isn't necessarily fun, at least not all the time, but is an Important Life Period nonetheless. Filling the well is very good for writers, who need a lot of experiences to avoid becoming dull people always writing about the same old thing. 
     My well runneth over. Thanks, kids. 

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Fresh from the experience of a lifetime - join us June 5 for photos and stories

   
    Picking the photos for our event tomorrow night has been like a kaleidoscope journey through our two-plus years in Honduras, immersed in all the memories packed into however many hundreds of gigabytes of pictures and videos we collected over that time.
   As always, I’m reminded that it’s the people that make a photo. In the moment I’m drawn to the scenics – and we’ll certainly be including a few of those at the Victoria Event Centre tomorrow. But the ones that make me smile are the ones with people: Bustling about in our little town of Copan
Ruinas; packing a gun in their back pocket to a farming workshop; lovingly tending the graves of their loved ones; horsing around on the beautiful beaches at Batalla in the Moskitia.
   What a place. What an experience. We have been home 2 months now, and I’m really feeling grateful to Cuso International and the Comision de Accion Social Menonita – my placement in Honduras – for such an amazing opportunity. It has been a time like the three-year period when I headed up PEERS Victoria a decade ago: Life-altering, in
ways that will shake up my opinions, decision-making, passions, work habits and approach to life for years to come.
   I hope you’ll join us tomorrow, June 5, 7 p.m., and share some of our Honduran stories with us. We’re raising money at the event for a group of abandoned children growing up in the little town where we lived, Copan Ruinas, but the night itself is more just a chance to share the experience of living and working in a Central American country for the past 28 months.
   I know there are many people out there wondering about work opportunities like this, wondering what it would mean to step out of their lives for a while and into something completely different. Please come to the Victoria Event Centre, 1415 Broad St., and let us fill you in. I find myself using empty phrases like “an amazing experience!” and “A fabulous opportunity!” when people ask me how we liked our time in Honduras, but I’m hoping we can get past the platitudes tomorrow night and impart more of what it really felt like to have this experience.
    We’re asking for $20 at the door, with all proceeds to Casita Copan and Cuso International. And hey, a bonus: Drinks, 20 or so terrific silent auction items, and a chance to meet each other in person, not to mention a guest appearance from the dog we brought back from Honduras, Maggie (aka White Dog). 
    Big thanks to Anne Mullens, Vivian Smith and  Sante Communications Group for organizing the evening!

   To Honduras With Love   7 p.m. Thursday, June 5   Victoria Event Centre, 1415 Broad Street